HOW CAN LEADERS ADDRESS COLLEAGUES’ COMPLAINTS ABOUT OTHERS
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This week I was coaching a senior leader who inquired about the challenging situation where one colleague brings forward a complaint or concern about another colleague. I am sure we have all been there. Colleagues feels like they just have to get something off their chest about a coworker who is annoying them, frustrating them, bothering them, or acting in a manner which they deem unprofessional or inappropriate.
Too often this kind of verbal concern or complaint devolves into negative gossip about the other person. Based on working at Georgetown University for 32 years and facilitating “The Seven Habits” workshop there for 25 years, I am convinced that negative gossip is the largest cancer affecting any organization, regardless of its size.
It can spread like an illness through a team, through a department, through multiple departments, and, ultimately, through an entire organization or institution.
As leaders, it is our obligation to strive as much as we can to help stop the spread of negative gossip, whether it is about a close colleague, a colleague in a different department, a manager or supervisor, or even a customer. So when someone with whom we work brings us a complaint about a professional colleague and is eager to explain their frustration or is striving to obtain our buy-in, what can we do to manage the situation?
Here are a few suggestions for you to ponder:
-Don’t instinctively agree
-Let the person vent without agreeing
-Remember everyone wants to be heard, but feeling heard and being agreed with are two different things
-Don’t go down the negative gossip hole
-Get curious up front
-Restate the other person’s emotion and words so they know you “get it”
-Explore their motivation for sharing their concerns with you
-Ask what, if anything, they’d like you to do in response to their concerns
-Ask what they can do within their own power to address the issue
-Ask who else on the team they’ve shared their concerns with
-Ask how they’ve successfully addressed similar concerns in the past
-Suggest they take their concerns directly to the person involved with “I statements,” not “you statements”
-Recommend a 24-hour cooling off period for them to consider options
As leaders, we will receive complaints from colleagues about other colleagues. It is inevitable. Part of our job in leadership positions is to manage these kinds of conflicts.
How we handle them reflects upon our own leadership skills and attitudes. So please do not wait until an incident occurs to consider your leadership strategy for addressing these challenges.
Develop a strategy that you are confident will work for you and work for your team!
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